If you’ve ever heard of ADHD (or, more likely, ADD), you’ve probably also heard that people usually get over the disorder when they grow up. But I’m going to let you in a little (horrifying) secret: Many people don’t get over ADHD, but get more ADHD when they enter adulthood. And there is a name for these people: women.
Members of the ADHD medical community have observed for decades that women seem to experience an amelioration of ADHD symptomology during pregnancy. (This is great, because physicians will tell you that you should only continue taking ADHD stimulant medication while pregnant if you feel that the benefit to you, the mother, outweighs the risk of harming your baby in utero; basically, the implication is that you’d have to be a sociopath to continue your treatment regimen if you have a bun in the oven.) However, it has also been observed that women seem to experience an exacerbation of their symptoms during menopause, and as young adults every few weeks or so.
As it turns out, studies in recent years have shown, an average woman’s mental acuity is proportional to her estrogen levels. An ADHD woman, of course, struggles with inattentiveness and lack of focus just as a baseline. Thus, she may be able to get by and even thrive during the first half of her menstrual cycle each month, thanks to medication and/or therapy of some kind. But when she hits her PMS week, her hormone levels deplete, and stay low until the end of her period, leaving her feeling out of it for virtually half of every month.
I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been empowered by acknowledging how real — and how limiting — my ADHD has always been. It became particularly acute starting around age 18, and now we know why: In a word, hormones. If I weren’t aware, or didn’t believe, that my disability has a biological foundation, I would inevitably suffer even more, because I would be left believing that the cause of my troubles were some flaw in my character, my quality as a person. I can’t adequately express how significantly my mental health has improved since I’ve learned to acknowledge my own limitations (and their neurological basis) and forgive myself for not always being able to exceed everyone’s expectations.
But that’s only half the battle. To win that battle, you need allies. I have at least 20. Let me tell you about one of them.
This is Meli. She and I were roommates at the University of Oregon’s Living-Learning Center residence hall during my freshman year of college. We definitely did not have a perfect roomie-roomie relationship back in 2009, but with every passing year she and I have grown closer and closer, so much so that today each of us considers the other one of her best friends. There is a lot to love about Meli: She is adorably small in stature and unabashedly nerdy; I can’t do justice to her particular syntax, but trust me, it’s completely unique and utterly hilarious. Above all, though, I love Meli because she loves — and supports — me, ADHD and all.
About two months ago, on the second Friday in May, Meli accompanied me on a trip to Newport (one of Oregon’s coastal towns) for the wedding of my friend Dana to her longtime boyfriend, Nick (Dana and Meli get along really well, which isn’t surprising, because they are both awesome), in which I was to be a bridesmaid. The members of the wedding party had all chipped in to rent a beach house for two nights. Around 10:30 p.m., after everyone had returned from the rehearsal dinner and a complimentary boat ride around Newport Bay, Dana knocked on the door of the bedroom Meli and I were sharing to inform me that in about 10 minutes we were all to congregate to go over the logistics of the wedding day. “Is that okay?” she asked. “Yes,” I deadpanned. “As long as you understand that I am heavily unmedicated and will not retain any of what you say.” Dana, of course, gracefully accepted this, she being an ADHD ally herself, though we were left wondering what to do in light of the current situation. But then, Meli chimed in and gamely offered to attend the confab as my proxy and take notes on the scheduling and my responsibilities for me to read the next day when I was medicated once again.
Now, granted, I was pretty emotional already, seeing as how I was about 15 hours away from witnessing the nuptials of two incredible people, but I almost burst into tears because of what had just happened: Rather than chiding me for being lazy, or even encouraging me to have some faith in myself, Meli simply accepted that I couldn’t handle the task at hand, and offered to do it in my stead. Why? Because she could. It was a far cry from my senior year of high school, when a girl who at the time I counted as one of my closest friends told me that I had done a good job “not saying anything stupid yesterday.”
A true ADHD ally embraces an ADHD woman for all that she endures, and for all that she is unable to endure. My friends support me when I push myself, and support me when I don’t. Meli is the epitome of an ADHD ally. I’m hanging out with her tonight, in fact.
I can’t wait.